In pretty much every major city around the world, you’ll find echoes of historic distilleries that made a huge impact in their day but couldn’t survive past the early half of the 1900’s. The Roe family’s Thomas Street Distillery in Dublin is one such icon, once lost to time but now being resurrected in almost the same spot where it all started hundreds of years ago.
(Quick disclosure before we go any further: our policy here at Thirty-One Whiskey is that we want to buy every bottle of spirits we review. It might be expensive, but it helps preserve our impartiality. This is one of those rare occasions where we couldn’t purchase a bottle of this spirit our home state of Texas — so for this review, the folks behind Roe & Co graciously sent us a bottle to check out. And the bottle is the only thing they sent — no swag, no envelopes filled with cash, no invitations to tequila tastings with George Cooney. Just wanted to put that out there, and now… on to the review.)
The Roe family was a powerhouse in the distilling business of late 1700’s Ireland. Peter Roe was the first to get into the business, purchasing an existing distillery on Thomas Street in Dublin (across the road from the Guinness brewery) in 1757, which would expand over the years as the business became more successful. Another member of the family named Nicolas Roe set up shop in Pimlico, cranking out a prodigious amount of spirits starting in 1784.
Around 1832, George Roe had inherited both of his these distilling operations, and went on to expand the facilities to include warehouses, malting rooms, and kilns. He passed the business onto his two nephews Henry and George in 1862, who shepherded the business through its heyday, employing over 200 people and shipping more than 2 million gallons of spirits per year. The family even had enough surplus cash to bankroll the restoration of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, something that earned the cousins a knighthood.
Over the next few decades, though, business would get increasingly more difficult, with Scottish distilleries taking an ever larger market share and rival Irish distilleries getting even more powerful. By the time American prohibition came around in the 1920’s, the distillery simply couldn’t handle the loss of overseas trade and closed shop in 1923. Most of the buildings were sold off, including St. Patrick’s Tower in the Guinness brewery complex which was once part of the Roe family distillery.
The family name faded into history until 2017, when the British spirits giant Diageo (who coincidentally also own of Guinness) decided to resurrect the name and use it to launch a line of premium blended Irish whiskey. While the original distillery building is no longer available, the company spent 25 million Euros to renovate the old powerhouse that used to power the historical distillery into a distillery itself. Production started in 2019, and the brand was launched as “Roe & Co”.
- Learn More: What Is Irish Whiskey?
There’s not a whole lot of detailed information about what goes into making this spirit, but from the label and the law we can glean a couple hints.
As an Irish Whiskey, this is required by law to sit in a barrel for no less than three years before it can be labeled as such. Since the new distillery launched in 2019, we can do the math and surmise that the source of this spirit probably isn’t from the newly built Dublin facility, but rather probably trucked in from somewhere else. Interestingly, Roe & Co seems to be Diageo’s only Irish Whiskey on the market at the moment (since selling Bushmill’s to acquire ownership of Don Julio), so exactly which distillery it comes from is a bit of a question mark.
There are at least two different strains of spirits in here: an Irish Malt Whiskey and an Irish Grain Whiskey, that are blended together to create a Blended Irish Whiskey.
The malt whiskey is an interesting choice, as it requires the use of 100% malted barley as a raw material that is then cooked, fermented, and batch distilled in traditional pot stills to create the raw whiskey. I consider this interesting because the traditional “fingerprint” for an Irish whiskey is a sweetness of flavor that comes from blending malted and unmalted barley before cooking and fermentation… but that seems to be absent here.
Using a grain whiskey for the second choice is a pretty common pattern for blended whiskey, though, as it allows the malted whiskey to provide the majority of the flavor while the grain whiskey provides the alcohol content and volume. This category allows a hard maximum of 30% malted barley, but the grain bill of the grain whiskey portion can even be 100% corn and still meet the requirements.
Once the spirits are distilled and trucked in, they are finished in bourbon casks. The practice of using previously used bourbon casks is pretty common in the Scottish and Irish tradition, given the low price and easy availability.
This is a master class on how to put together a good bottle.
The body of the bottle is round in just about every way: rounded at the base, rounded around the body, rounded at the shoulder, and even rounded around the bulge in the neck. You might be tempted to say that the walls of the body are straight, but even there it has a slight gentle angle inward from the base to the shoulder. The overall effect is that this looks and feels very soft and inviting. Up top, the bottle is capped off with a wood and cork stopper, which does give the package a premium feeling.
Moving on to labeling, this is exactly what I love. There are three labels on this bottle, all of them as small and unobtrusive as possible while still conveying all of the required information.
There’s a logo smack in the middle of the face of the bottle, but it’s a small round and circular shape. Most of the heavy lifting for the branding seems to be handled by the embossed company name that surrounds that small sticker, which is a really neat trick. It lets the brand name get more spice, but also allows all the color of the whiskey inside the bottle to shine through and be seen.
Speaking of the logo, it’s a neat little homage to the history of the distillery. The two parts of the old distillery that still remain on the Guinness grounds are the St. Patrick’s Tower and a historic pear tree that is still growing and flowering to this day. The logo is stylized in the abstract shape of that pear tree, which is way better than a standard “hipster-esque” block letter design.
The other two labels are less important but still tastefully done, one at the bottom left of the face of the bottle that carries some details about the contents, and a rear label that has the legally required details. None of the labels are very large, which really does let that beautifully colored spirit speak for itself.
I honestly don’t care what else happens from here, this is getting at least an additional 0.5 star just for the bottle design.
The whiskey is a beautiful, deep amber color. I don’t doubt that there’s some caramel coloring in here (because pretty much every distiller in this part of the world does it) but it’s done nicely.
Coming off the glass are two distinct layers of aromas. Most noticeable are the aspects that can easily be ascribed to a bourbon barrel: caramel, vanilla, brown sugar, a little bit of orange citrus. All the usual suspects. But there’s some good mingling coming from the malted barley that is adding more interesting characteristics — specifically, more of a yeasty sourdough aroma combined with some sweet honey.
Taking a sip, the importance of the components pretty much swap places. The malted barley components are the stars of the flavor profile (I usually identify them as “sourdough bread with some honey and butter” and that’s exactly what I have here). There’s a bit of lemon citrus in there that adds some complexity, and then the bourbon barrel components finally show up at the end to linger into the finish (the caramel, toffee, and vanilla are clearest). There are also some baking spices near the finish — things like cinnamon and nutmeg that add just a little bit of kick.
Usually, with the addition of some ice, the flavors get a bit attenuated. In this case, I think they might actually stand out even more.
On the nose, there is a much bigger burst of brown sugar than I saw before, which is strange. The “finishing”, or barrel aging, flavors are usually the most susceptible to this diminishing effect of the ice, especially with the aroma.
That does continue into the flavor, with the bourbon barrel components (specifically the caramel and the baking spices) being a bit more intense now. There’s almost a bit of barrel char that you get in here, with just a hint of bitterness that comes at times. You’ll still get that malted barley sourdough note adding some smoothness to the flavor profile, though.
At this point it tastes like a bit of a richer take on Maker’s Mark than it does a bottle of Jameson’s, and I’m not mad.
The hallmarks of a good Irish whiskey are a sweetness that usually comes from the un-malted barley and a peat-free flavor profile. Which can sometimes come across as a bit boring for the American palate that’s used to bigger and bolder flavors. This seems to be designed to trend closer to modern tastes rather than sticking to historical flavors (while still fitting the mold of what you need to do to be an “Irish Whiskey) and I think it works.
I really like the way that this nicely blends the sweet malty flavors with the bolder American bourbon notes. This tastes like a less floral and less peat-y version of the Glenfiddich 14 Year Bourbon Barrel Reserve that I recently reviewed — and while the Glenfiddich was great, this is doing a very similar thing at a lower price point.
I love the bottle, and I think the flavor profile is pretty much on point. I think there’s an opportunity for a touch of refinement when taken on the rocks, and I’d love a better understanding of exactly where this comes from, but those are really my only critiques. Otherwise, this is a solid bottle of whiskey from a brand new distillery.
|Roe & Co 106 Irish Whiskey|
Classification: Blended Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $41.29 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
A delicious mixture of Old World Irish malted barley and New World American bourbon barrels.